A federal judge on Monday ruled Black Lives Matter can’t sue former President Donald Trump and members of his administration for dispersing the crowd of protesters at Lafayette Square last year, but the judge allowed their case against local police to continue.
Judge Dabney L. Friedrich, a Trump appointee, said only one claim against the federal government made by the activists may proceed, pointing out access to Lafayette Square has continued to be restricted more than a year after the chaotic protest.
“To this day, over a year after the events of June 1, Lafayette Square remains subject to heightened restrictions that periodically limit protesters’ access to the Square,” Judge Friedrich wrote.
She dismissed claims against the Trump officials brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in representing Black Lives Matter that said the federal government conspired to violate the protesters’ constitutional rights during the protest after George Floyd’s death. Floyd, a Black man, died while in Minneapolis police custody.
The BLM protesters said the officers attacked them with tear gas and other crowd control weapons. The Metropolitan Police Department and Arlington police are also named as defendants.
The judge, though, said national security concerns weighed in the former president’s favor.
“The national security considerations implicated in this context counsel against extending a damages remedy,” the judge said.
But she said Arlington and D.C. police could be sued for violating the First Amendment rights of the protesters in restricting their speech.
The Justice Department defended the lawsuit under President Biden.
An Office of Inspector General report this month cleared the former president of removing the protesters so he could walk from the White House across the park to a nearby church for a photo op.
Instead, the report concluded that the U.S. Park Service had the authority to disperse the protesters and did so to construct a fence, which was completed by 12:30 a.m. the following day.
It also said federal agents did not use tear gas at Lafayette Square against the protesters, but D.C.’s Metropolitan Police did use tear gas nearby.
Last year on June 1, Mr. Trump walked from the White House across Lafayette Square to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, which the night before had been set on fire by protesters.
The activists had gathered in Lafayette Square, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, for racial justice protests.
Media pundits were quick to criticize the federal agents and the former president for what they called the heavy-handed response against the Black Lives Matter activists.
Scott Michelman, legal director for the ACLU of the District of Columbia, said the court’s ruling gives the government a “greenlight” to use violence on protesters.
“We plan to evaluate all our legal options to ensure that protesters cannot be wantonly attacked at the whim of a federal official,” he said.